With a linguistically-diverse population of more than a billion people, there are numerous languages spoken in different countries all over Africa. Local dialects such as Yoruba, Oromo, Swahili, Igbo, and Hausa are spoken by millions of Africans. Due to the effects of British colonization, several English speaking countries in Africa use the language as a primary, official, or secondary language.
Besides Rwanda and Eritrea, the rest of the English speaking countries in Africa were former British colonies. While the language is spoken in about two dozen countries in the continent, the percentage of people who can actually speak it fluently is significantly low.
List of English speaking countries in Africa
Here is a list of anglophone countries in Africa.
Zimbabwe is one of the Southern African countries that speak English. Formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, it is surrounded by Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique.
The country boasts 16 official languages and is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the only country in the world to accomplish that feat. Here are some of the country's official dialects.
- Sign language
Shona, Ndebele and English are the most spoken languages in the country.
Since Swaziland’s independence in 1968, the country has remained a member of the Commonwealth. Swaziland has two official languages, Swati is the national language, spoken by more than 95% of the population, while English is the second official language, spoken and understood by many of the inhabitants
Zambia’s official language is English, but there are more than 70 different languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. Almost everyone will speak or understand some English and most Zambians living in urban centres speak it fluently.
Signs and official documentation are almost always in English and/or Bemba and Nyanja, the country’s two most widely spoken local languages. Bemba is spoken by more than two million Zambians and is used frequently in administration and education.
With about 129 different ethnic groups, this anglophone country has what is probably the greatest linguistic diversity in the whole of Africa with four major African language bases, ranging from Bantu, Cushitic and the Nilotic languages to the less-spoken Khoisan.
It is interesting to note that in all primary school education in the country is taught in Swahili, but when school children graduate from primary school and enter secondary school, the medium of instruction switches to English.
Uganda's official language is English, which is spoken by most educated citizens. The three major indigenous dialect families in the country are Bantu, Central Sudanic, and Nilotic. Swahili and Luganda are also widely spoken.
6. The Gambia
The Gambia is a former British Colony and thus, its official language is English but there are also several tribal dialects including Mandinka and Wolof. While most Gambians are educated in English, they tend to be bilingual or trilingual.
Sudan has two official languages, namely literary Arabic and English. The number of dialects indigenous to Sudan is estimated at 114 comprising more than 500different accents.
8. South Sudan
Upon achieving independence, the Government of South Sudan selected English as its official language. This choice is understandable; given the linguistic and political history of the country, the current official English policy is a strong and predictable statement about national autonomy and political alignment.
9. South Africa
There are eleven official languages of South Africa. These include Southern Sotho, Pedi/Northern Sotho, Tswana, Swati, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English, Venda, and Tsonga.
10. Sierra Leone
The official language of Sierra Leone is English but there are 23 living dialects in the country. The most common ones are Mende, Temne, Limba and Krio.
Krio is the most widely spoken dialect in Sierra Leone and is native to the Creoles who were freed slaves from Britain, The United States and West Indies.
Krio is mainly derived from English but has influences from other African dialects such as Yoruba, European languages such as French, and also contains some expressions found in the West Indies.
The official languages of the island nation of Seychelles are Seychellois Creole, English, and French. However, Seychellois Creole is the most widely spoken dialect in the country, and the vast majority of Seychelles residents identify as native Seychellois Creole speakers.
Seychellois Creole is a French-based creole language and is locally referred to as Seselwa.
The Rwandan National Assembly adopted a law to make Swahili an official language of the country. This made it the fourth official dialect of the country, with Kinyarwanda, the national language, along with French and English, used in official communication.
The recognition of Kiswahili is part of the commitments entered in 2007 in the East African Community, an organization whose three founders – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – use Swahili as one of their official languages, alongside English.
Hausa was an official language of the northern Nigerian states from 1951 to 1967. It is the most widely spoken dialect, although English is the official language of Nigeria.
In addition to English, other languages such as Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, and Creole are widely spoken.
The official language of Liberia is English, in which many of the records from the period of British colonization have been kept. Liberia is a multilingual country where more than 30 dialects are spoken.
Besides Sesotho, English is also recognized as an official language of Lesotho. English is mainly used for official, media and government communication, unlike Sesotho which is widely used in casual engagement and in day-to-day communication.
Other minority dialects spoken in the country include Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Phuthi.
Namibia has a remarkable diversity of spoken languages, around 30 in total. English is the official language in Namibia, and almost everyone that you will meet on your travels will speak English, even though it is the first language of less than 1% of the country’s population.
Nearly half the population speaks Oshiwambo dialects, while the other main dialects are Khoekhoe, Afrikaans, Kwangali, Herero and German.
Mauritians are proficient in several languages. They use many dialects to communicate among themselves and the multi-ethnic characteristics of Mauritius make it a multi-lingual country. Most of the country’s citizens are at least bilingual, if not trilingual.
The Mauritian Constitution makes no mention of an official language. The country's one million citizens speak English, French, Mauritian Creole, French-based Creole, and ethnic languages such as Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Urdu, Tamil or Mandarin.
Malawi’s diversity is evident from the many languages spoken in the country. Of the many languages spoken, English is the official language while Chichewa is the national dialect.
There are other numerous languages also spoken in the country. However, English which is more often a second language and remains an important language in the country due to the country's history as a British colony.
On the other hand, Chichewa is a native dialect almost spoken by about half of Malawi's population.
The official languages in Kenya are English, which is widely spoken to a high standard in the tourist industry, and Kiswahili, an East African lingua franca that originates from the coast and spread inland along trade routes in the early 19th century.
While English is the official language and Setswana the national dialect, there are over 20 other languages spoken in Botswana, which are mostly used by the non-Setswana-speaking groups.
Almost 90 per cent of citizens speak Setswana as their mother tongue and, although English is spoken throughout the urban areas and within all tourist facilities, you may have to try a little harder to be understood in the rural areas.
On 28 August 2014, the country’s National Assembly unanimously adopted a draft law on the status of dialects including English as an official language. Burundi’s national dialect is Kirundi.
English is the official language of Ghana and is used in politics, media, education, legal affairs and official documents. However, there are 11 other official dialects in the country.
Walking the streets of Addis Ababa, one can hear many different languages being spoken. One of these is English, which might at first seem curious, given the fact that Ethiopia was never colonized by the British as many other African countries were.
The use of English in Ethiopia, then, is not a relic of colonialism. Furthermore, post-primary education is carried out entirely in English, which is, despite its prestige and widespread status, a foreign dialect to Ethiopians.
Between 1916 and 1960, Cameroon served as the colony of both the United Kingdom and France. Though the nation is now independent, the legacy of the colonial past of Cameroon is visible in its selection of the official languages.
French and English are the official languages of Cameroon. Eight out of the ten regions of the nation are francophones while two regions are mainly anglophones. However, the proportion of anglophones in the country is gradually decreasing.
There is no official dialect in Eritrea, though Tigrinya, Arabic and English predominate in commerce and national business. The use and development of all nine of Eritrea's languages are encouraged at the local level, and children attend primary school through the fifth grade in their mother tongue.
How many countries in Africa have English as official language?
There are 25 countries in the continent in which English is spoken as an official language. Unsurprisingly, most of these were colonized by the British thus leaving the dialect as one of the remnants of colonization.
It is worth noting that Eritrea and Rwanda (former Italian and Belgian colonies) use the language officially despite not being former British colonies. Liberia and Sierra Leone are the only countries in the continent that speak English as the primary dialect.
Is English widely spoken in Africa?
Not really. There are about 130 million English speakers in the continent. This is a relatively small portion of the continent’s entire population which exceeds 1 billion people. In addition to this, proficiency in the language varies widely among speakers.
In some countries that have English as one of the official languages, less than one percent of the population can speak the language fluently. In West Africa, the Pidgin version of the language is spoken by about 75 million people.
How many West African countries speak English?
Here are the five English speaking countries in West Africa.
- The Gambia: The language is widely spoken in The Gambia in addition to the local Wolof dialect.
- Sierra Leone: English has been the principal language of Sierra Leone ever since the British rule. Bengali is the second official language of the country, while other non-official languages are also widely spoken.
- Nigeria: Like other former British colonies, Nigeria has English as one of its official languages.
- Liberia: The country embraced the language as an official dialect since the days of colonial rule.
- Ghana: This former British colony uses the language in business, media, official communication, and day-to-day conversations among citizens.
While a large number of Africans might not speak English fluently, the large number of English speaking countries in Africa implies that the language is still significantly spread across the continent.